Janine's Journey

c.1997 by A. Fraser and L.M. Wallace

Heat lightning crackled across the horizon, bleaching the night.  The
sky itself was protesting against the humidity that held even coastal
Maine in its soggy grip.  A falcon riding the damp night air screamed
defiance at Mother Nature even as the lightning danced again.  Two men
walking along the edge of a cliff beneath the falcon's pinioned protest
looked up at this son et lumiere.

"Andrei," said the shorter of the two. 

Although he spoke softly, the falcon stopped screaming.  It dived down
and perched on the speaker's shoulder, preening its feathers then pecking
disinterestedly at the earring that dangled in its master's lobe.

The other man, falconless, shook his head so that long, platinum blond
hair tumbled around his shoulders.  "I still say you need a parrot, not a
peregrine, Ray," he stated.

The other man chuckled, pushing the falcon's beak away from his ear and
his curly brown hair.  "You are the only person who ever suggested I
look like a pirate, Francis," he replied with a smile.  Once that smile
would have looked cold and cynical.  Now it was genuinely warm, but the
smiler still crackled with power that a trained observer could see.

"Give you an eye patch, and you'd be a natural," Francis retorted,
unawed by the presence of raw magic.  Of course, that same observer
would have noticed that this seeming teenager wasn't breathing.  Even
the falcon was not as it appeared, having been formed by a spell.

Ray halted on the old, much-travelled path that ran along the edge of the
cliff.  He put out a hand to impede Francis' progress any further. 
Because they'd been friends forever, Francis stopped instead of taking
the other man's hand off.  At the shoulder.

"What's wrong?" Francis asked.

"Someone's coming," Ray answered.  Of course, it had to be someone
friendly, or every ward on the cliff would have been tripped, but
still...  Andrei launched himself into the air again, screaming at the
interloper.

"Can't you control that bird, Ray?" demanded a familiar voice.  The
scent of panatellas wafted across the midsummer night as the lightning
illuminated the face of Alex Goldanias.

"Andrei is a free spirit," Ray answered, even as the falcon returned to
him.  "I don't control him."

"Hey, Alex," Francis greeted his fellow vampire.  "You still haven't
given up smoking, huh?"

The tall Romanian shrugged and exhaled a cloud of smoke from the
cigar/cigarette hybrid he held in his hand.  "Can't kill me," he grinned
without humour.  "But Janine and Mrs J. have made me go smoke outside." 
He took another puff.  "Want one?" he asked Ray cruelly, knowing
perfectly well that the mage had quit.

Ray licked his lips, inhaling the fragrant smoke--those were custom-made
jobs, soaked in rum--but then he steeled himself.  "No, thanks," he
replied, and Alex laughed.

"Janine wants to go home," announced the saturnine Count without
preamble.

Ray and Francis looked at each other.  Both were thinking the precise
same thing.  Francis was the first to vocalize it, though not elegantly.

"Huh?" he said.

"Has she gone away somewhere, Alex?" Ray asked.  "What's preventing her
from coming back?"

"You don't understand," Alex sighed, flinging the remainder of his
cancer stick off the cliff. "She doesn't regard Valley Mansion as home."
A flash of pain illuminated his face, a reflection of the heat
lightning.  "Not anymore."

Francis felt the penny drop, but then he'd known Janine longer.  "No,"
he said, horrified, "she can't want to go _home_."

Ray's head moved back and forth as if he was at Wimbledon.  "What?" he
asked, puzzled.  "I don't get it."

"Janine's originally _Canadian_, Ray," Francis explained.

"Well, we're a lot closer to parts of Canada than most of the US.  I
know it's a different country, but I hardly think it warrants that kind
of tone.  I know some perfectly nice Canadians."

"Janine's from _Toronto_," said Alex flatly.

Ray still looked blank.  "Never been there myself," he stated, "but I
know that people go there and come back, so it's not some kind of
Bermuda Triangle.  Some three million or so even live there.  It's
hardly a fate worse than death.  Or whatever," he added belatedly,
remembering that the lady in question was a vampire.

"Vampire politics, Ray," Francis hissed.  "We don't expect you to
understand."

"Vampire politics?  What's that got to do with Janine and Toront... oh."

Alex grinned mirthlessly as lightning bleached what little colour he had
out of his face.  It was a death's head grin.  "I see," he drawled
sarcastically, "that you just remembered who is it that calls himself
the vampire king of Toronto."
__________
I take it that _you_ remember, too?
Comments?

===================================================================
     BARON GIDEON REDOAK, fraser@library.utoronto.ca
   Your friendly neighbourhood Lord of the Manor since 1641
Oakwoods home page:  http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Lofts/3743/
Centre Stage:  http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Studios/2183/
My Other Home Page: http://members.tripod.com/~Anne_F/index.html


Date: Thu, 6 Nov 1997 11:47:17 -0500
Subject: Vampyres: Fluff: Janine's Journey, pt 2

Janine's Journey
copyright 1997 by A. Fraser & L.M. Mont... er, Wallace :)
________________

A short time later, they were seated around the kitchen table in Ray's
bungalow, wrapped in various towels.  This was because one of Maine's
sudden summer squalls had blown up, and Ray's place was the closest. 
He'd refused to dry them off magically.

"Huh," Francis snorted, taking up the conversation where it had left
off, "if Talbot's the king of Toronto, I'm the Queen of May." 

"Why Francis!" Ray batted his eyelashes.  "You never told me!"

"Piss off, Griffin."

"Regardless of whether or not his claim is true," Alex spoke up,
steepling his long fingers under his chin and resting his elbows on the
table, "Talbot has no love for the Brotherhood.  I've never really known
what his problem is, not that I care.  But as long as he's in Toronto
and claiming to rule it, I can't let Janine go there."

"Why not?" Ray asked.  "Is he so dangerous?"

"Ask Giuseppe Safelli.  Ask a number of vampires and mortals who have
gotten in Talbot's way.  He doesn't hesitate to kill when it suits his
purpose."

"Hands up those in this room who _have_ hesitated to kill when it suits
their purpose," said Ray ironically.  He got no show of hands.

"You know what I mean," sighed Alex.  "If I let Janine go home alone, as
an unprotected fledgling, he'd tear her apart.  If I go with her, as a
master vampire, I'd be challenging him on his territory."

The mage eyed the tall, powerful Alex.  "I've only glimpsed Talbot a
couple of times," he said, "but he's small and doesn't look that strong.
Surely you could take him down?"

Alex shook his head.  "Physical strength is only a small part of a
vampire fight, Ray.  I am a little less than twenty years short of two
hundred.  I wouldn't stand a chance against a vampire more than twice my
age."

"You could take Evan," Francis suggested.

"Or the whole Brotherhood," added Ray.  "From the sounds of it, we
should have taken Talbot out years ago."

A frown marred Alex's Byronic good looks.  "It I take Evan," he replied,
"he'd have to kill anybody who tried to protect Talbot.  There's a
mortal involved, that student, not to mention the formidable female
vampire who keeps an eye on them.  I don't want them killed--or Evan for
that matter, and I'm not sure who'd win that fight."

"And the Brotherhood?" Francis prompted.

"We go en masse to Toronto, and we're declaring war on Toronto's entire
vampire population.  You know that."

Ray sat back in his chair, giving a low whistle that made Andrei shuffle
on his perch in a corner.  "Vampire politics," he said.  "I think I'm
beginning to understand."

"On top of all of which," Alex continued relentlessly, "we've promised
Sofi that we won't go after Adrian Talbot."  He finally relaxed his
posture, shoulders sagging.  The towel around them slid unheeded to the
floor.  "But Janine wants to go.  I'm open to suggestions."

"Have you talked to Gideon?" Francis wanted to know.  He flung his own
towel off, watching as it crumpled to the kitchen floor, a wrinkled pool
of burgundy terrycloth against the dark green linoleum.

"He's got his own problems."  Alex fished his gold cigarette case out of
a damp trouser pocket.  He saw Griffin's eyes narrow, so he sighed and
put the case back.  Damn, he wanted a smoke.

"That's not fair," Francis retorted, giving the puddled towel at his
feet a kick.  "Gideon's been your best friend for over a century.  He's
helped out of a few jams."

"You think I don't know that?" Alex shot back, blushing.  "I just don't
see how he can help with this one.  He loathes Talbot."

Griffin pulled his own towel tighter around his shoulders.  He'd put on
a bathrobe, having taken off his shirt and pants upon arriving home.  He
cleared his throat for attention, and got it.

"Perhaps we're approaching this problem from the wrong end," he
suggested.

Both vampires looked blank.  The problem lay in Toronto.  Didn't it?

"Alex," Ray turned to the oldest being present, "_why_ does Janine want
to go home?"

Neither he nor Francis would have been terribly surprised if Alex
admitted he hadn't asked.  Consideration for others had never been one
of the Count's major personality traits.

But the big vampire sighed, rose up, and paced over to Andrei's perch.
"She thinks we'd be better apart," he told the falcon, ruffling Andrei's
neck feathers, warily alert for a quick and sharp beak.  "She wants to
try again, somewhere else, alone."  He stroked the falcon between the
eyes.  Andrei stretched out his wings, enjoying the attention. "I can't
say I blame her.  I've been a pretty lousy cousin."

Francis and Ray both swallowed their automatic first responses.  The
Brotherhood had long thought that Janine would be far better off removed
from the environs of Valley Mansion.

"And yet," Alex went on softly, tickling Andrei's breast feathers, "at
Latchgate, when I was stabbed by that blasted ghost, she was the first
one at my side."  He sighed again and walked away from the falcon. 
Andrei shrieked his protest.  "I've been seeing things more clearly
since then.  I think that whole experience did something to me.  I have
been a fool."  He brushed the top of his hair as if searching for
donkey's ears.  "In many ways," he added with a bitter laugh.  "I can
never, ever, make amends with Janine.  But I can give her the fresh
start she wants.  I can do that, at least.  It won't be easy."

"Especially if she insists on Toronto," said Ray.  If his tone had been
any more dry, they wouldn't have needed the towels.

Alex paced to the kitchen window.  It offered a view of Oakwoods.  He
didn't find the sight reassuring.  "Everyone leaves me," he said.  The
he squared his shoulders and turned to face the other two.  "No," he
corrected himsef, "they don't leave me, I drive them away."  He rubbed
his face with his hands.  "At least this time I can do some damage
control, make the leaving easier."

Ray got up himself, disappearing briefly into his basement.  He returned
carrying a small bundle of clothes.  "Your shirts are dry," he said,
handing out the garments.  Oxford cloth for Alex, Deadhead tee for
Francis.

Both unexpected guests had refused to relinquish their sopping pants. 
Now when they put on dry shirts, they regretted that modesty.

Alex considered the mage's question.  "That's up to Janine," he finally
said.  "I think she's just set on Toronto because it's home.  Her roots
are there.  I'll need to talk to her, see if I can get her off that
track."

"Telling her that Adrian Talbot will have her liver for lunch might
work," Ray grinned darkly.

"Why don't _you_ go home, Alex?" Francis asked.

The tall vampire, who'd been on his way back to his chair, walked into
the kitchen table, then leapt to grab the fruit bowl he'd knocked off
kilter.  "Come again?" he demanded.

"Communist rule has ended in Romania, you could go back," Francis asked.

"Tourism's big there," Ray added solemly, straightening the tablecloth. 
"I understand that they even give special tours."

"Special tours?" Alex repeated.  "Of what?  Ceacescu's grave?"

"No," Ray answered, twitching the last corner of the tablecloth back
into place, "Poenari."

He ducked just in time to miss an apple shied at him with deadly force. 
Wet pulp and seeds splattered messily against the wall behind where
Ray's head had been.

"I hear they throw in Vlad's birthplace for a few extra American
dollars," Francis giggled.  He reached up and caught the next fructose
missile before it became so much applesauce.

"These Romanian count vampires," Ray tsked, avoiding a flung orange.

"_No_ sense of humour," Francis agree, snatching the fruit bowl out of
Alex's reach before the kitchen became a vitamin-packed slaughterhouse.

Alex, face burning, left the bungalow to the accompaniment of gales of
laughter and the shrieks of a falcon.

"Jackanapes," he growled.  But before he reached Valley Mansion, he was
chuckling.  "Dracula tours, indeed.  Serve them right if I did go back
to Romania."

The thought, however, held no appeal.  There had been too many changes,
both in Alexander and the country of his birth.  No, Romania was not the
answer.

But neither was Toronto.  How was he going to make Janine see that?
 
Alex braced himself and went inside his house.  He slipped down to his
room to change, then waved to Mrs. Jenkins in the kitchen and went in
search of his cousin.  Janine was in the study, watching a movie on
television.  Glancing at the screen, Alex sighed to see that it had been
filmed in Toronto.  No doubt the audience was supposed to believe the
setting was New York or Chicago, but some of the landmarks were
unmistakably Canadian.

"I'm homesick," said Janine, clicking off the set.  She eyed her cousin
suspiciously.  "That was one hell of a long cigarette break," she said. 
"Get caught in the rain?  You're wearing different clothes."

"I ran into Ray and Francis," Alex replied.  "We got soaked and ended up
at Ray's, talking."

"About what?" Janine demanded.

"You," Alex confessed, settling down on the black leather sofa, which
squeaked.

"Me?  What right do you have to be talking about me to other people?"

"The right of a bloodmaster."  Alex's grey eyes bored unflinchingly into
hers.  "The right of a worried cousin."  His tone softened.  "I'd like
to think it's even the right of a ... friend."

She wilted.  "So, what did you say, or am I allowed to know what's being
said about me?"

"We talked about your desire to go back home," Alex told her, "and that
we all think it's a bad idea."

Surprisingly, she stayed calm.  The Janine of two years ago would have
thrown a fit.

"Why?" she asked.

"Because the so-called vampire king of Toronto would have you for
breakfast."

She tossed her head.  "Huh.  I'm not afraid of Adrian Talbot."

"You should be.  He's dangerous.  If you were any other fledgling, it
would be... how do you young people put it ... cool.  But you aren't any
other fledgling.  You're _mine_."

"But you've never met him."

"Don't think he doesn't have the faces of every member of the
Brotherhood memorized.  He hates us, he knows we're a real threat.
He'd turn you into mincemeat."  Alex swallowed, and half reached out
towards her, his hand faltering back to his side before it got there. 
"And I don't want that to happen to you."

"Then come with me," Janine said.  "You could protect me from that
overrated bully."

Alex sighed.  "No, I couldn't.  He's older than I am by two centuries or
more, Janine, and the mere fact that he's still around instead of having
his head decorating a spike shows that he's a survivor.  He must be one
mean bastard when he's cornered.  Besides, the Brotherhood has promised
Sofi that we won't go after Talbot."

Janine snorted, but kept her opinion of Sofi to herself.  She'd once
called the singer "that little Italian doormat" in Sofi's hearing.

"Better than a Canadian sieve!" Sofi had replied, drawing her stiletto
and lunging for Janine.  It had taken Gideon and Alex both to restrain
the Italian before she could do damage.  Janine still winced at the
memory of the apology she'd been forced to make.

"Well, I can't stay here, Alex," she stated.  "We're not good for each
other.  And I don't want to just move into Fletcherville.  Any other
bright ideas?"

"It's a big world, Janine.  Surely there's someplace you could bear to
live besides Toronto or Fletcherville."  He rose up and moved to the
antique globe on its stand near the bookcases.  He gave it a gentle
spin, fingers skimming the surface as it rotated.  "Pick a place," he
suggested.

"You know it's not that easy for us."

"Yes."  It was a soft, sibilant sound.  "I know."  He stopped the globe,
not looking at her.  "If you really want," he said in such a low voice
that even Janine, sitting a few feet away and possessed of acute vampire
hearing, could barely make out the words, "I'll give you La Casa di
Fontani."

Her jaw dropped.  Her cousin was offering her a magnificent gift.  The
villa on a private island was more than just a winter playhouse for
Alex, it was his bolthole.  His sanity.  He was offering her a piece of
his soul.

She managed to close her mouth. "No," she replied, dismayed that her
voice shook.  "I couldn't take it.  I know how much you love it."  She
reached a hand towards her dark-haired cousin.  "But thank you for the
offer."

He smiled, but there was pain in his grey eyes.  "I wish the offer
wasn't necessary." He ignored her outstretched hand, knowing only too
well that a touch would lead to a kiss, and that straight to bed. 
Neither of them could afford that, not at this stage.

"We both know it is."  Janine's hand flopped back down to her side.
"So Toronto's out, Fletcherville's out, and Venice is out.  We're
narrowing it down."

He spun the globe again.  "I guess we'd better talk to the whole
Brotherhood, see what they think."

"Let's have them here, though, I hate formal meetings in that musty old
room at Fairlawn."

Alex couldn't repress a chuckle.  "Valley Mansion is older than
Fairlawn," he reminded her.

"Oh, you know what I mean.  We can sit around in here and have drinks
and things, instead of being mewed up in a formal arrangement and having
Michael behind his desk at the front of the room like a high school
teacher."

Alex had never thought of the arrangement of the meeting room in quite
that way, and laughed aloud at the image.  "I'll have to tell Michael
that one, he'll appreciate it," he said, grinning at the prospect. 
"Okay, Janine, if you want it here, I'll arrange it."
 
They were a bit of a tight squeeze in the study of Valley Mansion. 
Francis sat on the floor to ease things up a bit, and even so they
somewhat overflowed the available seating.  But it _was_ cosier and less
formal than the back room at Fairlawn,  Michael had to admit.  So what if
he was practically sitting on Maggie's lap... well, maybe that wasn't
such a good idea, he thought again, as her green eyes twinkled up at
him.

"We haven't been this close in years, mo croidhe," she whispered
naughtily.

"Behave yourself," he growled back, "or _you_ get to explain things to
Mary."

Maggie laughed, and wiggled over to make a bit more room for her
Archdruid.  She winked at Francis, who was snickering, and also at
Gideon, who was trying very hard not to pay attention.  Mitch
surprisingly remained poker-faced.  He really had done some growing-up.

Nicholas and Pandora were rapt in each other, as usual, and Evan was
conferring with Ray in low tones.  The host couple and their Nameless
housekeeper were also chatting to each other--it was amazing how relaxed
Janine looked.  Someone else had grown up, too.

Michael shook himself.  If this kept up, he was going to start getting
sentimental and refer to the Brotherhood as his children.  Which would
most likely get him thrown off the edge of the cliff.

This was Alex and Janine's meeting, anyway.  Let them call order.

"Ahem," Alex finally said, gaining everyone's attention.  "Thanks for
coming over."

"We need to ask you all something," Janine took up the thread. She
looked over their faces, and realized she _liked_ these people.  It
would be hard to leave them.  "I have to go away," she said, less
confidently than she had wanted to.  "It's better for both of us,"
here she took her cousin's hand, "and for the Brotherhood in general."

"What makes you say that?" Michael asked.  "Surely the Brotherhood is
the best judge of what's good for us in general."

Janine shook her head.  "You're too protective, Michael."  But she
smiled when she said it.  "There are too many vampires in the valley,
and we all know it.  We're not meant to live together like this, and
wasn't the whole idea of the Brotherhood to spread out, spread the
message?"

"To some extent, yes," Nicholas spoke up, "but it is also to band
together for protection.  That's why it's a brotherhood."

Maggie snorted, but made no further comment.  She and Pandora exchanged
grins.

"And sisterhood," sighed the bard.

"But there are still too many vampires," Janine argued. 

It was difficult to disagree with five of them together in one room.

"There has been no difficulty with the numbers," Gideon's gentle voice
pointed out.  "We have always managed."

"It's getting harder though, isn't it?" Janine pressed.   "Harder to
hide what we are, harder to hunt, harder not to kill to cover our
tracks."

The silence in the room was a more eloquent answer than any they could
have given her.

Pandora was the first to speak, her low, quiet voice commanding the attention
of everyone in the room, although her words were directed to Janine.

"Perhaps..." she mused aloud, in response to Janine's statement.  "This is
not, as you know, a problem for me--in fact, I tend to give more than I
ever take."

"A regular Red Cross for the terminally undead,"  Francis quipped,
grinning affectionately at the vampiric healer then quickly ducking his
head to avoid Nicholas's well-aimed smack.

Pandora chuckled despite herself, but quickly redirected her attention
back to Janine.  "While this may or may not be a problem that will need
addressing, it is not really relevant to your reasons for leaving, is it
Janine?"  she asked pointedly.

Janine hastily dropped her eyes from Pandora's knowing gaze.  Had her
heart still been able to beat, it would be racing.

"Janine," Pandora continued, speaking softly.  "Do not be afraid to speak
your heart.  We can only help you if you tell us the truth."  She leaned
forward from her seat and grasped the young woman's hand in hers,
squeezing gently with reassurance.

Michael relaxed back against the sofa, nodding with approval.  Trust
Pandora to, well, to get to the heart of the matter.

Janine swallowed hard. When she lifted her eyes to meet Pandora's, a
silvery-rose glistening betrayed the depth of her emotional turmoil, her
previous calm demeanour revealed for a mask.

"I want to go home,"  she whispered, her voice husky, her eyes beseeching
Pandora to understand and to help.

Janine's plaintive words did not fail to touch even the most cynical heart
in the room.  There was not one of them who had not been compelled or
forced somehow to leave their home, and who did not find themselves
longing at times to place their feet once again on the earth of their
origin.  It was a bittersweet longing and an impossible dream for most,
since, even if it were physically possible, the memory could never match
the current reality. But here was one who could possibly fulfill that
dream.

"Then home you must go,"  Pandora answered with finality, squeezing
Janine's hand once again.

"Pandora, it's not that simple,"  Alex interceded, his grey eyes dark with
sorrow.  "Would that it were...."

Pandora looked at him expectantly, waiting for an explanation.


Alex repeated what he had told Ray and Francis the previous evening. 
Gideon let out an exasperated sigh.

"Once again, that actor proves an inconvenience," the Baron said, beating
everyone else to a reply.  "If it were not for that promise to
Giuli-Sofia..."

"But we did promise," Michael spoke up.  "And, really, he would be
perfectly within his rights to challenge another vampire in his
territory." He made a mental note to himself to sometime talk to Gideon
privately about the Baron's personal vendetta against the Toronto
vampire.

"And neither Janine nor I would survive such a challenge," Alex said.

"It's not fair!" said Janine fiercely.  "Why'd he have to pick _my_ home
to go to?"

"I could go with you," Pandora spoke up, causing everyone to stare at
her.

"No!"  Nicholas cried sharply, taken by surprise..  "No, _mo croidhe_," 
he said more softly, putting a protective arm around her shoulders. 
"It's too dangerous."

"I don't believe it is," she responded calmly.  She had expected Nicholas
to react in the negative and carefully kept her voice neutral.  "And I'm
willing to take the chance."

"Pandora," Gideon spoke up, "Talbot is the kind one does not give chances
to.  You cannot risk your safety and Janine's by going to Toronto."

"Why do you want to go, Pandora?" Maggie asked.

The healer shot her a grateful look.  "I'm no threat to him," she replied.
"I don't hunt, he would have no reason to be territorial with me."

"But does he know that?" Michael wondered. 

"I don't care if he does or not," Nicholas grumbled.  "Niamh, please..."

"Please come with me," Janine begged, tightening her grip on the
healer's hands.

Pandora looked around.  Michael and Maggie both looked ready to support
her; Gideon and Evan were vehemently against the idea; Francis, Mitch,
and Ray were neutral; and the Goldaniases, along with Mrs Jenkins, looked
hopeful.  Nicholas...she sighed.  Releasing Janine's hands with a final
reassuring squeeze, she turned to face the others.

She responded to Michael first.  "Vampires know, Michael.  They can sense
it.  And he knows that I'm a healer."  She neglected to explain how he
knew.  Her ace in the hole was the fact that she had healed his young
friend Jake during the CotN party on the Titanic, and she suspected that
Adrian, being an old-world gentleman, would feel honour-bound by that.
Pandora did not, however, want to play that card unless she absolutely had
to.

When no one questioned how Adrian knew that Pandora was a healer,
she relaxed.  They must think he knew that through Sofi, and Nicholas
obviously had not yet remembered the incident at the party.

"My going with Janine would look innocent,"  she continued.  "Two young
women on a holiday.  It's a large city--unless he perceives an immediate
threat, he may not even know we're there.  Plus,"  Pandora paused, playing
another of her aces, "I can move about in daylight.  I can scout areas for
Janine, look for job opportunities, a place to live.  And I can help her
learn to hunt safely there so she is not a threat to Adrian nor to
herself.  I can give her the benefit of my experience in both worlds."

"Just her _being_ there will be a threat, Pandora,"  Gideon interjected
with some exasperation.  "_Both_ of you, as members of the Brotherhood,
will be threatening, regardless of vampire territoriality."

Evan nodded in vehement agreement with his employer.

"Has he actually harmed any member of the Brotherhood?"  Pandora inquired
quietly, looking around the room from Gideon to Alex to Evan.  "Or made
any direct threats or given warnings to stay away from Toronto?"

Reluctantly, they all shook their heads.  

"Then we're not a threat unless we come out on the offensive, am I right?"
Pandora asked, lifting a finely curved eyebrow..

Reluctantly, they all nodded their heads. 

"And there's certainly nothing offensive about you..."  Alex said softly,
his grey eyes glinting with a trace of his old mischievous charm, a
seductive smile playing about his lips.  But through the slick surface of
his gaze shone a beam of gratitude for her willingness to help Janine, and
the lengths she was prepared to go.

The room was silent as everyone mulled over what Pandora had said.
Janine found it hard to contain her excitement.  It all made perfect
sense to her, surely the others must see that too.  She had sensed the
shift in Alex's demeanour and knew that he had been swayed, which
was the most important to her.  But she knew that the majority of
the Brotherhood would have to agree before they would let Pandora
go.  She looked anxiously around the room, trying to read the
faces and chewing her bottom lip fretfully. 

Pandora sat closely to Nicholas, idly stroking his wedding band as they
loosely clasped hands.  The look in his eyes told her that he was not at
all happy with this, but at least he had listened.  Later she would remind
him of the incident on the Titanic and she knew he would feel better about
it.  That and other...persuasions should, if not totally win him over to
the idea, then at least ease the tension considerably.

"Shall we put it to a vote?"  Michael finally asked, breaking the silence.
"Aye, nay, or abstain.  Gideon?"

"Nay," replied the Baron tightly.  "You know my reasons."

"I say nay, too," Evan grunted.  "Same reasons.  You can't trust that
actor."

Maggie smiled at Pandora and Janine both.  "Aye," she said.  "I think
you can manage just fine."

"I abstain," Mitch said.  When Gideon started to state that Mitch was free
to vote whichever way he wanted, without fear of any recriminations, the
werewolf interrupted him.  "This _is_ the way I want to vote, boss," he
said. "I've got my reasons for abstaining."

"Me, too," Francis chimed in.  "Sorry, but I'm of two minds about the
whole thing and don't know which way to vote."

"That's why there's an abstain option, Francis," said Michael, amused.
"Ray?"

"Aye," said the sorcerer.  He shot a look at the glowering Baron.  "I was
someone no one wanted to give a chance to, once," he said. "Maybe Talbot
deserves a shot."

Gideon had the grace to look embarrassed.

Mrs. Jenkins and Alex both added their "ayes", making Janine throw her
arms around them both and kiss them in turn, although Alex got a rather
more intimate kiss than the housekeeper.  Someone snickered.  Janine
gave Francis a dirty look, but he beamed with innocence.

Neither Janine nor Pandora voiced their vote.  Since they were obviously
both in favour, their votes did not count.

Nicholas was the second-last to vote, next to Michael.  "Ab--," he
started, but hesitated when he saw Janine watching him.  Her eyes were
both plaintive and hopeful and they stirred his compassion.  From his
memory he heard a soft voice speaking:  "I am tired of wandering and do
not wish to return to my old ways.  I want a place I can call home..."
He idly stroked the long hair of his wife and lover, who was
purposefully keeping her back turned to him, but she clutched his
hand tightly in her own. 

"Aye,"  he finally said, with a sigh.  "Aye," he repeated, grinning
despite himself at the excited expression on Janine's face.  He was
promptly rewarded by a hug from Pandora.

"Thank you, love,"  she whispered in his ear, and he nodded in
response, emotion momentarily tightening his throat.

"Five in favour, two against, two abstains," Michael summed up.  "And I
say aye'."  He returned Pandora's smile and smiled again when Janine came
and hugged him.  "You should always try to realize your dreams,
sweetheart," he whispered in her ear.  "Looks like you're going to
Toronto."

"I love you, Michael," she whispered back, then grinned at the Brotherhood
as a whole.  "Thank you all--yes, even you, Gideon.  I know one of the
reasons you are against this is out of concern for me, and I appreciate
that.  But I'm going home!"


There had been a bang-up party at Valley Mansion, with absolutely
_everyone_ there.  Janine was really surprised at who had turned out.
Darcy and Samantha had come, little Maryanne Genevieve in tow;  the
Fairlawns, the twins now a rambunctious seven and Bess looking quite
grown-up and looking forward to university in the fall; the Oakwoods boys,
Ray, Francis, Maggie, Pandora and Nicholas...it was quite an assemblage of the
Cliff Road Crowd in full force.  Even Sofi and Percy had finally come out
of seclusion, bringing Daniella with them; although Sofi was very sombre
and everyone had to be careful not to mention either Adrian or Daniella's
middle name around her.

Janine had alternately glowed and cried; she was touched that everyone
cared enough to come and see her off in style.   Alex had hovered around
playing the host and looking important.  The guests had been full of
advice and well-wishes, even Gideon had gruffly wished Janine good
luck.  When she had hugged him in return, he'd looked very surprised.

Apart from Galen and Vivain deciding that sliding across the freshly-
polished hardwood floors was the most fun they'd ever had, the party had
gone smoothly.  Now it was behind them and the adventurers were on their
way to Boston on the first stage of their journey.

"I think you passed the exit, Alex," said Janine, her head swivelling to
watch the rapidly fading sign.

"Next one," said her cousin.

Pandora and Nicholas exchanged amused glances.  All four of them were
taking the trip in Alex's car, the vampire stubbornly insisting on
driving.

Janine looked at the map.  "If we want to get there before dawn, we should
have taken that one," she stated.

"Next one," repeated Alex. 

The Goldaniases stared at each other, the infamous family stubbornness
apparent in both expressions.

"I've been to Boston before," Alex pointed out.

He managed to neglect to mention that on that occasion he had not been
driving, and had been nowhere near the airport.

"Fine," Janine said.  "It's your funeral pyre."

"The best exit is another twenty miles down the road, past the one you're
thinking of, Alex,"  Nicholas interrupted from the back seat, the cousins'
bickering beginning to get on his nerves.  "Takes you right to the airport
and our hotel.  And," he continued at Janine's sharp glance, "well before
sunrise."

The couple in the front seat remained grudgingly mute. They knew Nicholas
had driven this road often.  Alex took the bard's advice and, true to his
word, they were in Boston and checked into their hotel well before dawn.

The Goldaniases excused themselves from the other couple and retired to
their hotel room.  Pandora watched them go with concern, but knew better
than to say anything.  This was something they had to work out for
themselves.

A chilled bottle of champagne waited in the room, but both cousins
ignored it.  Alex slumped into a chair near the door, watching Janine
kick off her shoes and flop onto the wide bed.  A dark scowl marred the
count's handsome features; he was well on his way towards one of his
black moods.

Janine looked over at him and repressed a sigh.  She sat up slightly,
the once-smooth bedcover wrinkling up underneath her.

"Is this really the way you want me to remember you, Alex?" she asked.

"You're leaving me," he said.  "You want me to be cheerful?"

"We've been over this," Janine said patiently.  (And over and over and
over, she added mentally.)  "At least we've talked about it, you knew it
was coming.  Not like..."  she abruptly put her hand over her mouth, and
rolled off the bed to approach her cousin, other hand held out in
apology.

"Brier," he supplied the name.  "I can hear that name without turning
suicidal, you know." 

Brier had left him without a word, only a brief note.  It had hurt,
though not as deeply as apparently he had hurt her.  After four years, the
wounds were healing.  He wondered if Brier's ever would.  But it was not
the teacher from North Dakota that bothered him now.  It was his cousin,
his fledgling, his ... lover.  They'd been more than kissing cousins,
the seduction mutual.

"Yes, all right," Alex agreed after a moment.  "I knew this was coming. 
It's one thing to know it and another to suddenly be in the middle of
it, though.  Janine... I screwed up royally, didn't I?"

"No more than I did, cousin."  Janine's mouth quirked wryly as she made
the confession.  "I think maybe there really _is_ a family curse."

"It's self-fulfilling if you think that," Alex warned her.  "Look what
happened to _me_.  _You_ still have time to shed that image of yourself;
you're still very young.  I predict that you will take Toronto by storm,
and leave it breathless."

"And the vampire king of Toronto?" Janine looked amused now.

"He will fall to his knees when you pass."  The tall count flung himself
dramatically to his own knees, making the dresser shake. He took his
cousin's cold hands in his.  "I'm going to miss you, Jenny-Wren."

"I'll miss you too, Alex.  But we won't be so far apart, not really. 
I'll come and visit, and maybe you can come to Toronto sometime when the
king isn't looking."  She raised his hands to the level of her lips,
kissing the knuckles.  "He may not be such an ogre as we fear, you
know," she said softly.  "I think Pandora's right that we have to give
him this chance."

Alex sighed, but it wasn't an unhappy sound.  "Don't ever do this to
him," he said with a twinkle in his eyes as her lips and tongue caressed
his hands.

Janine laughed in her throat and pulled her cousin to his feet.  "Not
unless he asks _really_ nicely," she promised.  "And I won't give him
the follow-through.  Give me more than a scowl to remember you by,
Alexander Philippe Goldanias."

"As you wish, Janine Rose Goldanias.  As you wish."  In a sweeping
gesture straight out of a Gothic romance, he lifted her into his arms
and carried her to the bed.

* * *

Pandora and Nicholas lay crosswise in a twisted tangle of sheets and
blankets on the king-size bed.  Pandora's head rested on the bard's chest,
and he idly played with strands of her hair as she enjoyed listening to
the soothing beat of his strong heart.

The sun had long ago risen, and was now a shimmering beacon in the hazy
morning sky.  Nicholas contemplated the dust motes that floated in the
stream of light shining through the crack in the curtains.

"Mo croidhe..." he began, tightening his arms around Pandora.

"Shhh,"  she admonished him gently, rising up on her elbows and stilling
his mouth with her own.

"Just promise me you will be careful,"  he whispered after the kiss
had ended, his violet eyes beseeching her.

"I promise," she assented, moving closer to him so that her mouth was
near his ear,  making him shiver slightly at the sensation of her warm
breath on his neck

"I promise...to be careful.  And cautious. And wary.  I promise not
to place myself or Janine in danger.  I promise to be ever vigilant. 
I promise not to take any unnecessary risks.  I promise to get in
touch with you at the first sign of trouble.  I promise to call you
at work on a busy night for phone sex. I promise--" 

Nicholas growled in the back of his throat as he sat up, rolling Pandora
onto her back and gently pinning her arms over her head.  She laughed
joyously.

"Now I know you were listening," she teased him, her smoky teal-blue
eyes sparkling. 

"Always,"  he murmured, covering her body with his own.

"Good, because I want you to hear this,"  she continued, gasping
slightly as his mouth found a particularly tender spot.  "I love you,
Nicholas Edwards.  That I most promise you.  And I will miss you
terribly." 

"I love you, too, Pandora Edwards, vein of my heart.  That I also
promise you, along with my full and complete trust," he  responded,
staring into her eyes meaningfully. 

"Thank you, love," she whispered gratefully, stroking his cheek with
her hand.  "For that I will call you on two busy nights."

"Only two?"  he queried, feigning an expression of hurt as his own hand
stroked an exquisitely sensitive zone. 

"Mmm,"  she purred, arching her back and neck slightly. "Make that
three..."

The harsh industrial lighting at the baggage claim area of Pearson
International Airport, out in darkest Etobicoke, made
Janine blink painfully as she and Pandora waited for their luggage to
descend.  Fortunately the young vampire had had all her paperwork
organized well in advance; she had never surrendered her Canadian
citizenship and this greased the wheels at Immigration considerably.
Pandora, as a visitor rather than a returning citizen, had a somewhat
easier time.  Eventually the two reunited at the baggage carousel.

"Whew, thought it was going to get sticky there," Janine flashed a shaky
grin.

"But you got through it,"  Pandora smiled warmly, "And we're on our
way.  That is, if our bags ever get here."  She looked around at
the dreary surroundings and rubbed her forearms.  "I hate airports,"
she muttered.

"Yeah."  The younger woman looked around her.  "Too many reflecting
surfaces," she muttered.  "And this lighting sucks."

The carousel began to turn as the first of the baggage from Boston came
down the chutes.  Naturally, since they were anxious to be out of
the place and on their way to their hotel, their bags were almost the
last to come down.

"I swear it's a conspiracy," Pandora shook her head as she hefted her
bags and let Janine guide her out past the crowds and to the curb where
they could catch a shuttle to their hotel.

The bus wheeled away from the airport and headed down the highway,
carrying its dozen or so sleepy-eyed passengers into downtown Toronto. 
Even at this time of night there was traffic.  Janine was excitedly
pressed against the window like a much younger girl, pointing out
highlights of the trip to Pandora.  Since these were seen as mostly
passing streaks of lit concrete, the healer wasn't gaining much from
this information.

"We'll have to do a real tour later," Pandora finally said, urging
Janine to sit back and relax as the bus turned onto the Gardiner
Expressway.

"Okay," Janine agreed.  "But I'm just so happy to be home."

"I know,"  Pandora took the younger woman's hand in her own
and squeezed gently.  "And there's so much to see and do...but
you've got to give this old country woman a chance to adjust to
the culture shock,"  she added, grinning at Janine.

Janine snorted.  "Some old woman you are..."  Pandora didn't look
a day over twenty-four, the age of her "death," and she still
retained the vibrant beauty she had held in life. 

"Celebrated my 1200th birthday just the other month,"  Pandora smirked.
"But I told everyone that I was 21...again,"  she added, cracking Janine
up.

The shuttle bus took an exit ramp down off the highway, and for the
first time the buildings became more than a blur.  They rolled past the
impressive bulk of Union Station, and then they were at the door of the
majestic Royal York.

Alex had insisted on paying all of their expenses, at least until Janine
was thoroughly settled and Pandora had returned home, and he had
sprung for the best.  The stately old railroad hotel, although dwarfed by
neighbouring towers of glass and steel, still had a regal presence in
Muddy York.  It looked almost like a small castle parked on the corner
of Front and University.  Pandora admired the carvings around the
outside of the doors as she picked up her bags from where the bus driver
had dropped them.

"I always wanted to stay in the Royal York," Janine said in an awed
whisper as they walked into the huge lobby.  "Look at this place!"

Pandora was looking.  From the somewhat faded and worn, but obviously
top quality, carpet on the floors, up through the panelled walls with
their brass fixtures and on up to the high ceiling, its beams decorated
with exquisite marquetry, this was a very impressive hotel.  Comfortable
chairs and couches were amply provided, along with marble tables for
depositing your reading material.  There were a few stores in the lobby,
as well as a barely-glimpsed tea room, bar, restaurant and other
amenities.  The registration desk was down a bit from the entrance, and
they made their way to this.

In no time at all they were being shown to their luxuriously appointed
room with a bellboy bearing their baggage.  Service still meant
something at the Royal York.  Janine gave the "boy," obviously at least
college age, a big tip and he winked at her.  Then, repeating some of
her moves of the previous night, she kicked off her shoes and flopped
down on one of the two beds.

"Wow," she said.  "I feel like royalty."

"The Duchess of York,"  Pandora quipped, grinning at Janine. "Shall I
start calling you Fergie?" 

The healer ducked and just narrowly missed being struck with an
appropriately named throw cushion.

The next evening Janine rose, showered and dressed, then stood waiting
patiently for Pandora to get ready. 

"What do you want to do, Janine?" the other woman asked.  "It's your
city, I'm just a visitor here.  Show me around."

"All right!" Janine exclaimed, excited. 

Many of the usual tourist attractions closed at eight at night, so that
only in the dead of winter could vampires enjoy tours of the Royal
Ontario Museum, the Art Gallery or the Science Centre.   But this still
left the exteriors of these buildings for inspection, as well as many
others, and Janine took Pandora on a tour of downtown Toronto.  They
saw the theatre district, with the distinct fishbowl architecture of Roy
Thompson Hall, the Eaton Centre, shopping mecca, the Hockey Hall of Fame
and BCE Place, an office/mall where many television series episodes
are filmed, Union Station, featured in a lot of movies, the outsides of the
CN Tower and the SkyDome, then the outsides of the ROM and the AGO.

They wound up on Bloor, west of Yonge around Bathurst, and took a quick
tour of the Annex, still hopping with university life even at this hour,
and they wound up in a trendy bar sipping whiskey and laughing over the
highlights of the tour.

"I'm thoroughly lost," Pandora admitted, trying to make sense of all the
architecture they had seen that day. 

The Royal Ontario Museum and oddly, the Hockey Hall of Fame, which was
in what had once been a bank and still had the elaborate facade, had been the
most impressive with their columns and sense of dignity.  She agreed that the
Henry Moore sculpture outside the Art Gallery resembled two donuts. BCE
Place was something like a crystal palace or cathedral with its high arched glass
ceiling.  Downtown Toronto was a fascinating mix of the old and new, with a lot
of  boring sixties and seventies type buildings slowly being surrounded by
new and innovative styles while people fought to preserve authentic
Victorian facades. 

The healer was beginning to understand why Janine wanted to live here; while her
own heart longed for the peace and quiet of Meadowsweet Ridge, Valley Mansion
must have seemed a prison to Janine.

"We're in the Annex," said Janine, thrilled with the daringness of this.
She was getting a bit disappointed that they weren't challenged, since
this was allegedly Adrian Talbot's home turf.  Maybe he was elsewhere
tonight, and they'd cross his path another time.  All the warnings had
merely gone to make Janine fascinated with the idea of meeting Talbot.

"And that means...?" Pandora asked, looking around at the mix of yuppies
and students in the bar.

"This is a trendy area, one of the places where the rent goes up just
because you live here," Janine explained.  "A lot of university profs
and students live in the Annex, it's handy to all three universities."
She hauled out their map.  "See, it's walking distance to U of T, you
can just hop the subway north to York, and take the bus down to
College then the streetcar across to Ryerson."

(The sort of place where, in another time, one might have found coffee
houses and earnest young things in black turtlenecks, Pandora thought
with a smile.)  Now there were bars and upscale Italian restaurants and
the earnest young things wore Armani.  La plus ca change...

"We still haven't seen Casa Loma, or the Beaches, or High Park, or Bloor
West Village, or Yorkville..." Janine was frowning at the map.  "We
could go tour U of T..."

Pandora raised her hands. "Mercy," she begged.  "Remember this poor old
country woman isn't used to this pace!  We don't have to take it all in
in one night, darling."

Janine grinned and blushed.  "Sorry.  I guess we've done more than
enough for one night.  I was just kind of hoping..."  she scanned the
bar again and sighed.

"Hoping what?"

"Nothing."  How could she explain to Pandora that she found the danger
exciting, that the thought of being challenged by a territorial vampire
was turning her on?  (The Goldaniases must be truly cracked, she
thought.)  "Just hoping I might see someone I know."

"It would be better not to, Janine, you know that," Pandora patted her
hand.

"Yeah.  It would be hard to explain where I've been, wouldn't it?"
 
"Or rather, what you've become," Pandora said softly. 

They sat in silence, both pursuing their own thoughts.  Something was
niggling at Pandora with the persistence of a buzzing mosquito. 
Something she should know.  Something she should be remembering.
Something important.

They had been so many places, seen so many things--she found it hard
to focus.   A university crowd, Janine had said; she pondered this, looking
around the room.  The Annex...

Pandora stiffened in her chair.  At last she remembered.  Adrian worked
as a professor at the University of Toronto.  This was his territory. 

She regarded Janine thoughtfully, noting the air of expectancy that was
making her restless, the shine in her eyes and the faint flush in her cheeks.
Janine had brought them here quite deliberately, knowing the danger. 
But rather than feel angry, Pandora just sighed.  Despite Janine's growth
and rising maturity, she was still very young.  And still very much a
fledgling.  Pandora had been so overwhelmed by the size and bustle
of the city that she had willingly let Janine take charge.  But now it
was time for her to take control of Janine.

"Janine," she said quietly, the tone of her voice making the younger woman
instinctively straighten her back.  She looked at Pandora with wide eyes.

"You're playing a game, child, that you cannot possibly win.  What can
you reasonably wish to accomplish by coming here?  Do you wish to
destroy your hope of staying before you've even begun to give it a chance?"
Pandora kept her voice level, fixing Janine with a piercing gaze.

Janine flinched at the word "child," but she grasped at a straw at Pandora's
use of the word "chance."

"Wasn't it you who said we should give Adrian a chance?" she retorted, trying
to sound as calm and authoritative as Pandora, but succeeding only in sounding
petulant.  "That maybe he's not as bad as everyone believes him to be?"

Pandora smiled, but her eyes were a hard, stony grey that made Janine shiver
involuntarily.  "We will never find out if he finds another vampire deliberately
and blatantly challenging his territory.  This is not about personality, Janine,
it's about survival."

"But we're just sitting here having a drink." Janine protested, looking down
at the glass in her hand.  "We're not hunting, or anything."

"How would he know that?  How would he know that you're not fixing a mark
as we speak, out of all of these young, healthy specimens around us?"

"But what if it was a mistake?  What if I _didn't_ know that this was his
territory?" Janine's voice grew higher and more plaintive as she realized
that she was losing.

"But you _do_ know, Janine," Pandora emphasized, her voice still carefully
low and modulated.  "And he would know that you know.  Do you doubt
that?"

Janine reluctantly shook her head, eyes still fixed on her glass, the thrill she
had earlier felt at possibly running into the infamous vampire dissipating.

"Janine," Pandora put a finger under the young woman's chin and pressed
upwards so that she would look at her.  Their eyes met and Janine looked
away quickly, but found her gaze drawn back when she realized that
what she had seen in Pandora's eyes was compassion and even empathy.

Maybe she does understand, Janine thought, and took some hope in that.

Pandora sat back in her chair and smiled, the expression softening her face
and eyes.

"You will be less of a threat once you have established yourself elsewhere,
somewhere that does not infringe on his territory.  You need to demonstrate
self-sufficiency.  Only then can you even remotely hope to face him with
any kind of equanimity.  And trust me, it will be far more exciting when you
do."

Janine perked up.  Pandora had said "when," not "if."  Perhaps she could
never hope to be his equal, simply because she had not lived long enough,
either as a mortal or as a vampire.  But maybe she could shift the balance
some.  Pandora was urging her to shed her fledgling skin and take charge
of her existence, just as she had a few years before urged her to develop
interests outside of the Valley Mansion and, particularly, Alex.   She
looked at the healer with gratitude, thankful once again to have Pandora
on her side.

"You can be a butterfly, Janine," Pandora said fondly.  "But don't let
anyone clip your wings before you've had a chance to fly." 

Pandora did not say what she had been thinking, that Janine's attraction
to Adrian was not unlike her attraction to Alex.  Both of them were older,
stronger men and vampires with a reputation for a certain ruthlessness;
which nevertheless masked a deeper vulnerability, particularly when it
came to certain women.  Janine's desire to meet Adrian was in no small
measure part of a complicated rebellion against Alex..  Complicated,
because in some ways it was a natural development, both because of her
mortal age, and in the relationship between fledgling and sire.  Add to
this the fact that Janine had been orphaned, and Alex was like a father to
her in more ways than one.  Pandora feared that Janine might end up
trading one oppressive relationship for another.  Certainly such a girl
as Janine might prove an interesting dalliance for a man like Adrian, and
it was this which Pandora feared for her most, not the risk of death.  In
fact, the true death would likely be a mercy once Adrian got through with
her.

Pandora sighed. She could not hope to keep them apart forever, but
she would do her damnedest to level the playing field before the inevitable
meeting took place. 

"Thank you, Pandora," Janine said with shining eyes. 

"Maybe we should put the sightseeing on hold so we can scout
out a good area for you," Pandora suggested.  "I expect you will
be needing to feed soon, as well." She said this so quietly that someone
standing right beside her would never have know that she had spoken,
unless that someone happened to be a vampire.

"Yes," Janine admitted, shifting somewhat uncomfortably in her seat.
"Maybe we'd better go, eh?" she suggested, feeling suddenly nervous. 

"Good idea," Pandora said, rising from her seat.

Janine was meekly guilty about leading them both into danger, and
allowed herself to be taken back to the hotel.  She sat quietly watching
Pandora get ready for bed, wondering a little nervously what to do now.

"Is there some part of the city where you'd like to live?" the healer
asked, sensing some of the other's torment.  "Somewhere that is out of
Adrian's territory and not near where you used to live?"

"High Park's a nice area," said Janine after some reflection.  "Some of
the neighbourhoods there are quiet, older streets; and the park's
nearby, it's nice in some parts."

Pandora caught the hesitant inflection.  "And in other parts?" she
inquired.

"Well, when you get into Parkdale, down near the lake, it's not a very
nice area," Janine admitted.  "Drug dealers and prostitutes and every so
often someone gets shot.  But people get shot in Rosedale and King City,
too."

This was only too true.  Pandora had heard enough of the newscasts
during the day to know that Toronto had all the big city problems of New
York or Chicago.  But there were drug dealers and prostitutes in
Fletcherville, if it came to that.  And shootings.  Nowhere was free of
human greed or fear.  The trick for a vampire was to move safely and not
add to the suffering more than necessary.

"Then we'll try to steer clear of Parkdale down near the lake," Pandora
said equitably.  "And now it's almost sunrise, so you'd better hop into
bed."

Janine gave her an exasperated look, as if to chide her for her
maternalism, but obediently got into bed.  "I'm sorry about tonight,"
she murmured.  "I just wasn't thinking."

"No harm came of it," Pandora said. She tried not to think of what might
have happened. While she had been the one to advocate giving Adrian a
chance to prove he wasn't an evil ogre, the memory of his arrogance on the
Titanic wasn't reassuring.  On the other hand, there had been his
extraordinary gentleness and concern upon seeing Jake injured.  There was
more to "That Actor" than met the eye.

Pandora also had to admit to herself that there truly was something compelling
about him, and understood why Janine found him so attractive.  But Janine
was nowhere near ready to hold her own with him.  Not yet.

"He's so handsome," Janine sighed just before dawn robbed her of speech.

********

A mild drizzle accompanied the two women on their tour of the park area
of the west end.  The park itself loomed dark and damp, a black tree-
silhouetted expanse that looked far from inviting on such a night.  Yet
lights blazed from turn-of-the-century houses that lined the streets,
and noise spilled out from the odd cafe or bar on Bloor or Roncesvalles.
The lake, a black expanse with the ripples of its waves shining from
shore lights, lay like a large wet rug to the south.

"Not a very nice night," Janine complained as rain seeped in under her
collar and ran down her back.  "We should have stayed in the hotel and
watched tv."

Pandora managed to keep herself from laughing, but only just.  "Some
vampire," she teased.  "Complaining about a little rain."

The "some vampire" attempted a grin.  "Well, it's not very nice, you
have to admit," she said. 

"No, but it means you get to see the area when it's not at its best, and
still decide whether you want to live here or not."

"What about a job?" Janine asked.  "Who's going to hire someone who can
only work nights?  I don't want to live on Alex's money forever."

"There are nightclubs," Pandora said, "lots of other places that stay open
all night, or until very late.  If you go into decorating full-time, you
can make your own hours--lots of people would appreciate a decorator who
worked in the evenings, after regular working hours.  It may be more
difficult to find tradespeople willing to work at night--ideally you would
want a partner who could deal with them in the daytime--"  Pandora broke
off.  She was getting way ahead of herself.  "But you can deal with those
situations when they arise," she added, not wanting to overwhelm Janine.

"I'd need to establish myself first.  Get a name, get people to know
what I can do."

"That's what advertising's for, sweetie.  And word of mouth.  All
you need is one client to get you started."

They looked over a few places with "apartment for rent" signs in the
windows, noting telephone numbers.  An apartment could be made vampire
-compatible with a little work.  Janine was adamant that she wanted to
pay her own rent once she was able to find work, and so would not allow
Alex to buy a house for her.  Pandora silently cheered on this show of
independence--it would stand the girl in good stead.

"This is a bit scary," Janine said as they took refuge
in a little cafe on Roncesvalles, obviously a favourite in the
neighbourhood.  All types congregated here, drawn by the selection of
herbal teas, vegetarian entrees and delicious pastries.  Goths,
students, Yuppies, working class people, and those who didn't easily
fall into any category happily scrunched into the small spaces and
sipped tea and talked.

"Is it?" her companion asked, looking around the cafe in surprise.

"Not this place," Janine laughed.  "I mean, going out on my own, setting
up a business, trying to find a place to live... I've never had to do
that.  I lived with mom and dad, then just dad, then when he went..."
the laugh lines faded.  "Alex invited me to Valley Mansion."  She stared
into her tea cup.  "And everything went wrong."

"However much we may want to, we can never change the past, Janine. 
There's no sense in hurting yourself over what can't be altered.  You're
here to look ahead to your future, and I think you've already made a
pretty promising start.  I have no doubt that you'll be on your
own two feet in no time.  It'll take a lot of determination and hard work,
but you'll get there.  Just make sure you do it for the right reasons,"
Pandora added meaningfully.

Janine looked at her curiously, not quite understanding. 

"Do it for _you_,"  Pandora emphasized.  "Not because of Alex or Adrian.
Not even because of me. It must be for you and you alone. That is the only
path to true freedom." 

With the list of phone numbers in front of her, and Janine oblivious in
vampire sleep in bed, Pandora spent most of the next day in the hotel
room making telephone calls.  She left messages on a number of machines,
other times she got the run-around or was told the place was already
rented.  One conversation that started out promising ended by having
the potential landlord hang up abruptly when he heard Janine did not
have a job.

As the day wore on, Pandora was made aware that Toronto was a city with
high rents and low vacancy rates, and that landlords could pretty well
make their own rules.  She wondered again why Janine wanted to live
here.  Too many people, not enough places for them all to live... she
shuddered.  Of course it was Janine's decision to make.

"I'm hungry," the vampire announced, and Pandora managed not to jump.
Was it that late already?

"Well, then, we'd better go out for dinner," the healer replied, casting
aside the list with a sigh.  "Unless you want to send for room service?"

Janine giggled and shook her head.  "Any luck?" she asked, looking at
the list with many lines drawn through some phone numbers and question
marks after others.

"Doesn't anyone ever return phone calls anymore?" Pandora wondered
aloud.  "I did manage to get a few people to admit that they're showing the
apartment this evening, after dark.  We'll grab a quick bite then go
apartment hunting."

The vampire laughed again.  "Grab a quick bite," she snickered.  "Very
funny."

Pandora just shook her head.  At least Janine knew how to hunt
responsibly and was adapting her skills to the city very well. Although
Alex had never bothered to teach his fledgling proper vampire behaviour,
the other vampires in the Brotherhood had seen to it that Janine learned--
especially after the fiasco with Fox Fletcher.

Janine found her dinner, left the donor healthy and snoozing peacefully
with his memory erased of just where those little bites came from, and
the two women ventured once more into the High Park area.

The first place they looked at was obviously unsuitable--it was filthy,
tiny, and the building poorly maintained, yet the rent was ridiculously
high.  The next was more promising, but had too many windows that
admitted direct sunlight, and obviously nosy neighbours across the
hall--they were sticking their heads out the door and gave Janine and
Pandora both long, hard looks.

"Probably think we're lesbians," Janine grinned, throwing her arm around
Pandora.  "Let 'em."

"Is that a problem here?" Pandora asked.

"Depends which section of town you're in, I think."

The third place had been rented before they arrived, and the fourth
place was again too small.  The fifth and sixth were both reasonable,
not too many windows, nicely maintained buildings, no one living in your
hip pocket.  But neither potential landlord was interested in taking on
a tenant without a paying job.

"You're going to have to show that letter of credit from Alex, Janine,"
Pandora said when the two conferred hastily after being turned down at
the sixth apartment.  "One peek at the Goldanias name and the bank draft
will open these doors."

"I guess," said Janine gloomily, looking far from happy.

"It's only to help you get started.  You need an advantage, it seems, to
get by in this world, and this is one you come by honestly.  Cheer up,
honey, and let Alex help you out with this."  She didn't add that Alex
had been precious little help about too many other things.

"Okay," Janine cheered up.  "Let's keep looking, then, before it gets
too late."

They came to the next on the viewing list, and Janine's eyes lit up. 
It was a lovely Victorian home on a quiet side street, with steep
gables, a stained glass fan-light above the doorway, and a big brown cat
perched on the step.  The cat arched its back in greeting and allowed
itself to be petted.

"Gabriel likes you," observed a voice.  "You must be okay."

They looked up to see a smiling woman in her mid-forties in a flannel
shirt and jeans.  "Here to see the apartment?" she asked.

"Yes, please," Janine said. 

They were shown to a lovely upstairs flat, the whole second floor
of the house.  There was a generous living room, a bedroom tucked in
under the gables, a bathroom complete with a claw-footed tub, and use of
one side of the garage was included in the rent.  Janine fell in love
with the place--she could see the possibilities, and the windows could
be covered to make the place sunlight-proof.

"I'm just moving back to Toronto after being away for awhile," Janine
told the landlady.  "I haven't established myself in a job here yet, but
I'm going into the decorating business.  Until it takes off, and I'm
sure it will," she raised her chin with determination, "I have a letter
of credit from my cousin that will cover the rent and my initial
expenses in setting up my business."  She showed the lady the letter of
credit.  "To be blunt, Mrs...?"

"Garvey," supplied the landlady with a smile.

"I want this place," Janine said.  "I can give you a cashier's check
right now, though it will be drawn on a bank in Maine.  I haven't had
time to set up a bank account here yet.  You can see by this letter that
the check won't bounce or anything, and that I'm good for the rent for
quite awhile til I get my business going."

"Yes, I can certainly see that.  And I like your spunk.  Your friend
doesn't say much, though."

Janine grinned.  "I think she's a little stunned."

Pandora laughed.  "No, not stunned, just staying out of the way.  This
is completely Janine's decision, I'm just along for moral support and
map-reading."

"Well, then, the place is yours, Janine."

"Yahoo!" Janine couldn't resist, and all three women laughed.  Gabriel
the cat, who'd accompanied the apartment inspection, meowed.
 
"I hope you like cats," said Mrs. Garvey.  "While I'll mind my own
business and not poke around up here unless you want me to, there'll be
no keeping Gabriel out."

"He's more than welcome," Janine said, scratching the cat behind the
ears.

"Come on down to my part. I'll make some tea, and we can go over the
lease."

Mrs. Garvey proved to be exactly what Janine had been hoping to find:
a pleasant landlady who kept the house in excellent repair, but who was
remarkably uncurious about her tenants.  She owned four different houses
in the general area that were divided into apartments, and she never
pried into the lives of any of her tenants unless they didn't pay their
rent.  When told that Janine had to remain undisturbed during the day
and only went out at night, she simply nodded and promised not to
disturb her. Since the two searchers had seen several goths in the area
during their two visits, perhaps it was not that surprising to Mrs.
Garvey that someone lived by night.

When they finally left, the lease signed and everything arranged for
Janine to move in at her convenience, they were both in an ecstatic
mood.  They linked arms and walked down the street, laughing over their
victory.  Janine stopped at a small cross street and whooped with
laughter.  Pandora looked up to see what caused her companion's
amusement.

The cross street was Gothic Avenue.

Now that the flat was Janine's, she and Pandora had an excuse to go
shopping, something they both had been wanting to do.  Certainly Toronto
boasted enough malls and boutiques to satisfy the most demanding
shopaholic, and most of them had late hours at least two nights a week.
With Alex's letter of credit and a piece of plastic, Janine found that
the store clerks were ready to bend over backwards for her if she asked.

She wanted nothing from Valley Mansion except her clothes and some other
personal items.  The furniture and decor that Alex had chosen for her
was something she wanted to leave behind.  And she swore to herself that
she would pay him back every penny for what she used now, so even with
virtually unlimited credit she did not go overboard.

Scorning the modern furniture sections of large department stores,
Janine and Pandora visited antique shops, used furniture stores, junk
shops, and other such emporiums.  A lovely walnut bedroom suite got
snapped up on first sight.  A dining room table and chairs priced at a
figure Janine could live with proved harder to find.  They found some
casual chairs she liked, as well as a coffee table and some end tables. 
Lamps, dishes, glasses... the purchases continued to mount, but the
dining furniture eluded her.

"Well, you don't really dine at a table, anyway," Pandora pointed out as
the stores began to close and they were still unsuccessful. 

"No, but I might want to entertain people who do," Janine replied.  "And
it just makes a place look more like home."

"We'll keep looking," the healer assured her.  "You can't expect to find
everything in one night."

"Why not?" Janine grinned, ducking Pandora's faint attempt at a smack.
"I want it all and I want it now!"

"Spoken like a true Goldanias."

"You know..." the younger woman's eyes narrowed, "... there's a really
nice deep lake south of this city, would you like to go for a walk?"

"No, thanks, I think it might be too damp."

But they were both laughing, so there was no sting in the words.

The next day, Pandora went to the new flat to wait for deliveries, and
she noticed that the entire place had been thoroughly scrubbed clean
and the bedroom repainted.  Mrs. Garvey was certainly a model landlady;
they'd been very lucky.  Gabriel came up with one of the deliveries, and
Pandora stroked him and told him how much she missed her own cat and
dog.  Not, of course, all she missed about Meadowsweet Ridge...

She went back to the hotel when the last of the new purchases had been
placed inside, and called Nicholas to tell him she missed him.  He
offered to drop everything and come to Toronto, but of course she turned
him down.  Not without a qualm or two, though.  To distract herself
before Janine woke up, Pandora leafed through an entertainment magazine
she'd picked up.  Perhaps there was something playing that Janine would
like to go and see.

When the vampire woke up, Pandora put this question to her.  Together
they read through the various options:  movies, plays, musical venues of
all kinds, ballet, opera... Toronto was not without its amusements. 

"This sounds like fun," Janine said, pointing to the current production
at Buddies In Bad Times, a theatre that specialized in drama written by
gays and lesbians.

"Why don't we see if we can get tickets for tomorrow night, then?"
Pandora asked.  "I think we deserve a treat."

"I'm with you," Janine grinned.

They both reached for the phone and their credit cards at the same time,
and ended up laughing again. 

"My treat," Janine insisted.  "And this one gets paid for with MY money,
not Cousin Alex's."   She made the reservations, and was able to get
decent seats for the next night.

They went back out to search for more furniture and incidentals for the
apartment, finding a lovely wing chair, a bookcase, a desk... but no
dining table that Janine liked and was willing to pay for.  Dining
tables apparently came in either expensive or chrome.  After awhile and
just one last little antique shop (where she had to be gently persuaded
not to buy the tacky cuckoo clock designed like a log cabin), Janine
gave it up as a bad cause.  She and Pandora returned to the hotel.

"If I have guests, they can eat off the coffee table," Janine  sighed.

"You can always keep looking whenever you have the time," Pandora said,
patting her shoulder sympathetically.  "Think of the good time we're
going to have tomorrow night."

"Yeah," Janine brightened.  "I've heard this playwright's really funny."
She looked over the review in the paper.  "It'll be fun not to have to
shop for either an apartment or furniture."

Pandora smiled, and privately approved of the fact that all this
shopping had thoroughly distracted Janine from the subject of Adrian
Talbot.

"That was wonderful, Pandora!" Janine exclaimed as they paused in the
lobby of the theatre as the crowds who had just been enthralled by the
performance of "Poor Superman" came streaming out.  The buzz of happy
playgoers, satisfied with what they'd just seen and anticipating a
post-performance drink, broke around the two vampires like the sea.

"Yes, it was an excellent play," the healer replied with a smile.  This
had been a good idea, she reflected; Janine had relaxed considerably and
lost herself in the production on stage.

So far there had not been so much as a disgruntled phone call from
Adrian, let along a territorial challenge.  The Brotherhood's fears seemed
overblown, to say the least.

"Niamh?" asked a startled voice.

Pandora, equally startled to be addressed by that name here, turned and
saw a tall, husky young man staring at her.  A football player's build
stuffed into a good suit, short brown hair, warm brown eyes... she never
forgot a patient.

"Jake!" she replied.  "How are you?"

"I'm fine," he responded, his ever-ready grin widening.  "It _is_ you.
Whatever are you doing here in Toronto?"  His gaze took in Janine, and
his eyes widened in appreciation.  "Hi," he said.  "Niamh here healed my
arm awhile back, when I got stabbed..." he trailed off, realizing that
perhaps a crowded theatre lobby was not the place to tell the tale of
that stabbing.  "It's fine now," he concluded lamely.  "Are you a friend
of Niamh's?"  He could tell the pretty blonde was a vampire.

Janine looked him over much the way he'd done with her.  Not bad at all,
if you liked them with muscles...

"Janine Goldanias, Jake Fowler," Pandora made the introductions. 
"Janine's been showing me around.  She's from Toronto."  She tried to
peer around Jake's muscular bulk, to see if he was accompanied.  "Is ...
anyone with you?"

The grin faded.  "Yeah," Jake replied.  "Adrian's here." 

"Speaking about me?" drawled a too-familiar arrogant voice.

Yet when "that actor" strolled into view, his appearance did not match
his tone.  Pandora had to stifle a gasp.  Adrian looked haggard, as
if he'd been seriously ill.  His too-handsome features were ravaged by
pain and grief.  The healer was used to seeing the wreck of Sofi that
events of last winter had produced.  No one in the Brotherhood had spared
any thought at all that those same events must have affected Adrian. He
was walking with a limp that he was doing his best to disguise.

His eyes were the same, though.  They still had the power to mesmerize,
to see right through to the core of a person.  That disconcerting stare
took in Janine, and Adrian's expression grew wary.  Then he turned to
Pandora.

(Their eyes are the same colour, thought Janine.)  She waited to see what
would happen.

The actor bowed in mockery of his old grace.  "What an unexpected
honour, ladies," he said.  "I never thought I would find members of the
illustrious Brotherhood here in Toronto."

"We're not here as representatives of the Brotherhood," Pandora said.
She eyed the thinning crowds, the ushers standing by the doors. 
"Perhaps this isn't the best place to talk?" she suggested.

Adrian considered the problem.  "Privacy is not easily come by in the
city," he stated.  "Yet I think neutral territory is the best solution
for now.  Jake?  Any suggestions?"

"A bar," said Jake inevitably.  "No one pays any attention to other
people in bars, we could get a booth near the back or something."

"A good idea," Pandora said.  "Lead the way."  She wanted to get Jake
alone, to grill him on what precisely had happened to his vampire
friend, but that didn't seem politic at the moment.

They found a bar that wasn't too jammed with the post-performance
crowds, and sidled into a round corner booth that was as isolated
as possible. Jake ordered a beer and some nachos, everyone else
asked for wine. After delivering the orders, the waitress left them
strictly alone.

"Now that we're all cosy," Adrian intoned, having lost none of his gift
of sarcasm it appeared, "perhaps we can talk."  He gave Pandora what
might have been a gracious nod.  "I am in your debt," he said.  "I have
not forgotten.  But why have you come here, and why with this..." those
eyes studied Janine, "... child?"  He deliberately drawled the word,
baiting the girl.  He was amused by her fascination, in better times he
would have played with her and left her broken.  But that was not an
option now.

For once Janine kept her mouth shut.  She knew she'd better let Pandora
do the talking here.  But she studied the two men  with interest.  The breather
was cute, in a big and cuddly way, but he was avoiding eye contact.  Maybe
he had a thing against vampires, although that wouldn't explain why he was
chumming around with the most dangerous vampire in North America
(if Alex's rant was to be believed).  As for the vampire "king" of Toronto...
well, he was certainly handsome and those eyes were disconcerting, but she
didn't like the way he'd summed her up and dismissed her.  She looked hopefully
at Pandora, waiting for her friend to grind this arrogant vampire into so much
Talbot burger.

**********

Pandora glanced quickly at Janine and was relieved to find that the young
woman had obviously decided to keep her tongue still.  Yet she found
herself momentarily at a loss for words.  Adrian's appearance seemed to make
a mockery of the Brotherhood's concerns, including her own very different ones,
although the healer had not missed the disdain in the vampire's eyes when
he regarded Janine.

She turned towards the man who was seated beside her, one arm draped
across the back of the booth.  Despite the casualness of his pose, she noted
that he had his right leg, the one closest to her, stretched out under the table
as best he could as if the knee pained him.  Her healer's senses were singing
and her hands itched to touch him to determine what it was that was causing
him such discomfort and making him so ill.  He had not just recently come out
of a serious illness as she had first suspected; something was doing battle within
him and clearly winning. 

"Janine has decided to move home to Toronto," she finally said, deciding
to be forthright, holding Adrian's piercing gaze with her own.  "And I came
along to help her."

"Is that so?" Adrian responded, his left eyebrow lifting as he returned
his glance to the young vampire in question, regarding her intensely. 
"Toronto is where you are originally from, is it?" he asked in a neutral
tone.

"Yes, it is," Janine replied, squaring her shoulders and trying to hold
his gaze, but she cast her eyes downwards towards her drink after
only a moment.

"So, you are homesick then?" he asked softly.

Janine lifted her gaze to his once more, her shoulders visibly relaxing. 
"Yes," she said, looking at him hopefully as if he understood. 

But the vampire laughed, a cold, mirthless sound that raised the hairs
on the back of necks two tables away.  The foursome in the booth next to
them abruptly stood up and left, leaving their just-delivered drinks
untouched. 

"She speaks the truth," Pandora hissed in a low voice.  "Why do you mock
her?"

Adrian studied the healer's face, the amusement fading from his eyes.  "And
what better dupe to be the ears and eyes of the Brotherhood," he commented.

"You are wrong!" Janine cried heatedly, forgetting her resolve to remain
quiet.  "They did not even want me to come!  If it weren't for Pandora..."

"Janine!" Pandora said sharply and the young woman looked instantly contrite. 

Adrian watched them both carefully, amusement returning to his expression. 
Jake looked as if he were seriously contemplating crawling under the table, no
small feat for a lad of his size. 

"So, they consider me dangerous, do they?" he observed quietly, clearly pleased. 
But  the expression was fleeting as his eyes took on a haunted cast once again. 
"And the least threatening member accompanies her...the one who has shown
kindness to my friend..." he trailed off, turning his attention to Pandora, once
again dismissing Janine with a glance.

"How do I know I can trust you?" he finally asked the healer. 

Pandora regarded him, noting the weariness that had returned and
the barely disguised winces of pain. (This whole conversation is
ridiculous, she thought bitterly. This man will soon be no threat
to anyone.) But she continued to play the game, not knowing
quite how to end it and ultimately hoping that she was as good
an actor as he.

"I assume full responsibility for Janine," she responded.  "As
a surrogate sire--not as a member of the Brotherhood.  As far
as you are concerned, she is _my_ daughter, and I trust _you_
to act accordingly if need be."

Janine gaped at her friend.  Pandora glanced at her quickly,
imploring her to remain quiet.  Janine closed her mouth
but squirmed in her seat, clearly made uncomfortable by
Pandora's unexpected statement. 

Adrian was silent, seeming to consider the ramifications
of Pandora's assertion.  Had Janine still found it necessary to
draw breath, she would have held it.  Jake did, and so it
was he who exhaled with a whoosh when Adrian finally
spoke.

"Very well," he assented.  "I trust I do not need to
go over any territorial rules with you.  But I will
be watching her closely..." he finished in a voice which
seemed to want to be threatening but merely sounded
tired.

Janine started so suddenly at this unexpected victory that
she knocked over her wine glass, and its contents splashed
across the table and into Jake's lap before the glass itself
shattered on the floor with a small explosion.  Jake jumped
up in surprise and Janine in consternation as, flustered, she
tried to help dry him off with a paper napkin, much to
Jake's beet-faced embarrassment. 

Pandora took advantage of this distraction by turning towards
Adrian and very deliberately placing her hand on his right thigh,
just above the knee.

"Thank you, Adrian," she said, as if that explained her action. 

Adrian gasped, his attention drawn sharply back from the melee
which Janine and Jake had created. But he quickly overcame
his surprised expression and regarded the healer with frank
curiosity.  His gaze drifted downwards to the low-cut neck of
her dress, eyeing the deep cleavage and soft fullness of the flesh
there, but before he could formulate a suitable remark, he became
aware of a warm, tingling sensation in his leg that was incredibly
soothing.  He was astonished when the sharp pain emanating
from his wound diminished to a barely perceptible dull ache in
but a few moments, and his eyes flickered closed as he
experienced a profound sensation of relief. 

When finally he opened them again he found Pandora
studying him intensely and in her eyes he saw promise, but
not of the kind he had at first entertained.  When she lifted
her hand he felt the absence like a loss, but the pain
in his leg was not to return again until the next night.

Janine and Jake both returned to the table, and Pandora inched
away from Adrian.  She could not do anything more for him at this time
and in this place, after all.  Jake was still red as he sat down, but he was
grinning at Janine.  Pandora pretended to be hunting for something in
her purse, using this subterfuge to write down the phone number of the
hotel and their room number. 

"I think we should get back to the hotel, Janine," Pandora said.  "Jake,
it's been wonderful to see you again.  Stay well."  She offered him her
hand, and slipped him the paper, hoping he'd get the full message.

Janine very nearly pouted like the child she had been called, but she
didn't want to make herself look bad after gaining Adrian's grudging
permission to live in Toronto.  "Okay," was what she said.  "Good night,
Jake.  Nice to have met you.  Good night..." she hesitated, uncertain
what exact form of address to use.  Calling him Adrian implied a
stronger acquaintance than what they'd had so far.  "Um, thank you."

"It's Professor to you," Adrian drawled, standing up as the ladies
stood, and not wincing.

"Good night, Professor," said Janine dutifully, while Pandora merely
nodded as they left the two men behind and exited into the night air.

They walked a block towards the Royal York before Janine exploded. 
"Child, am I?" she demanded.

"Yes," Pandora replied.  "To Adrian, you are.  And you're certainly
acting like one."  Her mind was still back at that booth, mulling over
what she had felt when she'd touched the actor's leg.  Poison...

"You said you're my sire!" Janine went on. 

"Surrogate. It takes the heat off Alex and the Brotherhood should
Adrian decide to play politics. He would have to deal with me first."
Pandora explained.  "Do you mind?"  she asked more softly, turning
to look at Janine.

Janine thought it over.  Pandora had definitely been there for her
through more than one rocky situation since her turning.  She'd been
everything a good 'sire' should be.  "No," the girl said softly, turning
her head away.  "I don't mind.  You're a great mom."  She turned and
smiled, but there was a stray tear on her cheek.

"Hey,"  Pandora said softly, putting an arm around Janine's shoulders
and squeezing gently. "You're a great daughter."

"Even if I am a brat?"

"Even so."

"I miss my mom sometimes," Janine said.  "Dad, too, of course, but
there's something special about a mom."

"Yes, there is,"  Pandora's eyes took on a wistful look and Janine
suddenly remembered that the healer really had been a mother and that
her daughter had been separated from her at a very young age.  She
couldn't imagine what it would be like to lose your mother so
young, and how could Pandora ever forget such a loss herself? 

Janine interlaced her fingers with Pandora's as they resumed
walking down the street, warmed by the insight that just maybe
Pandora needed her, too. 

"Adri--sorry, *Professor* Talbot's mother must have been a total
bitch," she said after a while. 

"Janine!"  Pandora shook her head.  "You can't know that.  It's only too
easy to blame the mother.  I have the feeling that Adrian pretty much
made himself.  Now, enough about him.  Let's talk about your decorating
business."

They linked arms as they headed back to the Royal York, Janine full of
plans for starting out in her business.

********

Jake had noticed that Adrian wasn't wincing, that the lines of pain in
his friend's face had eased somewhat.  As they left the bar, the young
man thought about a diplomatic way to broach the subject he wanted to
discuss.  There wasn't one.  No matter how he phrased it, Adrian was
going to go ballistic on him.

"You're walking better," was what he said.

"Yes," Adrian nodded.  "The healer did something, I think."

"She's a nice person," Jake ventured.  This sally was met with only a
grunt.  "She did a bang-up job on my arm."

"That was a small cut, not a silver-poisoned bullet wound."  He could
feel the argent poison singing through his blood.  It sang of his death.

"She's a healer, Adrian," Jake dared to argue.  "I'm sure she could help
you if you let her."

The actor stopped in his tracks and his piercing teal eyes raked over
Jake.  "What are you suggesting, Jacob?"

"Let her heal your leg."  Jake thought about the note, safely palmed,
with Pandora's phone number on it.

"No."

"But it's *killing* you!"

"Better dead than in debt to the damned Brotherhood."

Jake shook his head.  Nobody was as stubborn as a damn vampire when
they wanted to be.  "I don't think she's like that," he said quietly.

Adrian smiled wryly.  "Fancy the healer do you, boy?" he asked.  "Best
stay well away."

"At least let her look at it."

"No."
 
"Do you want to die, Adrian?  By inches and in pain?"

"Drop it, Jake.  I said no."

The tall young man threw up his hands in despair while a part of him
considered how boring his life would be without Adrian.  The actor's
refusal be damned, he was going to call the number tomorrow.